The New York Times editorialized the other day, Time to End the Electoral College:
The Electoral College, which is written into the Constitution, is more than just a vestige of the founding era; it is a living symbol of America’s original sin. When slavery was the law of the land, a direct popular vote would have disadvantaged the Southern states, with their large disenfranchised populations. Counting those men and women as three-fifths of a white person, as the Constitution originally did, gave the slave states more electoral votes.
The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, and made the fugitive slave clause of the Constitution mostly moot. Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment explicitly repealed the “three-fifths compromise.” The last remaining vestige of slavery in the Constitution is the Electoral College.
Today the college, which allocates electors based on each state’s representation in Congress, tips the scales in favor of smaller states; a Wyoming resident’s vote counts 3.6 times as much as a Californian’s. And because almost all states use a winner-take-all system, the election ends up being fought in just a dozen or so “battleground” states, leaving tens of millions of Americans on the sidelines.
There is an elegant solution: The Constitution establishes the existence of electors, but leaves it up to states to tell them how to vote. Eleven states and the District of Columbia, representing 165 electoral votes, have already passed legislation to have their electors vote for the winner of the national popular vote. The agreement, known as the National Popular Vote interstate compact, would take effect once states representing a majority of electoral votes, currently 270, signed on. This would ensure that the national popular-vote winner would become president.
Conservative opponents of a direct vote say it would give an unfair edge to large, heavily Democratic cities and states. But why should the votes of Americans in California or New York count for less than those in Idaho or Texas? A direct popular vote would treat all Americans equally, no matter where they live — including, by the way, Republicans in San Francisco and Democrats in Corpus Christi, whose votes are currently worthless. The system as it now operates does a terrible job of representing the nation’s demographic and geographic diversity. Almost 138 million Americans went to the polls this year, but Mr. Trump secured his Electoral College victory thanks to fewer than 80,000 votes across three states: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
As you might imagine, this editorial did not sit well with the “Great White Father” of white male privilege at FAUX News, Bill O’Rielly. Martin Longman at the Political Animal blog discusses what happened next. Watch O’Reilly Racialize the Electoral College Debate:
Last night, Bill O’Reilly gave a little speech on his Fox News program The O’Reilly Factor in which he explained his theory of why people on the left want to do away with the Electoral College. Since it hits on several themes I’ve been focusing on, I am going to quote his remarks in full.
BILL O’REILLY: Abolishing the Electoral College, that is the subject of tonight’s Talking Points Memo. After Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, the left in America is demanding that the Electoral College system put into place in 1787 be scrapped. But there’s a hidden reason for this.
As we reported, even though Secretary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.8 million, the progressive state of California provided all of that margin. Clinton defeating Trump there by about 4.3 million votes. So if the Electoral College were abolished, presidential candidates could simply campaign in the nation’s largest states and cities, New York, L.A., Chicago, Houston, and rack up enough votes to pretty much win any election. That’s what the left wants. That’s what they want. Because in the large urban areas and blue states like New York and California, minorities are substantial. Look at the landscape. Philadelphia, Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami. In all of these places the minority vote usually goes heavily to the Democrats. And to that New York City, L.A., Chicago, San Francisco, don’t really have a national election anymore, do you? You have targeted populations. Newspapers like the New York Times and the L.A. Times have editorialized to get rid of the Electoral Cllege. They well know that neutralizing the largely white rural areas in the Midwest and South will assure liberal politicians get power and keep it.
Talking Points believes this is all about race. The left sees white privilege in America as an oppressive force that must be done away with. Therefore white working class voters must be marginalized and what better way to do that than center the voting power in the cities. Very few commentators will tell you that the heart of liberalism in America today is based on race. It permeates almost every issue. That white men have set up a system of oppression. That system must be destroyed. Bernie Sanders pedaled that to some extent, Hillary Clinton did. And the liberal media tries to sell that all day long. So-called white privilege bad. Diversity good.
If you look at the voting patterns, it’s clear that the Democrats are heavily reliant on the minority vote. Also on the woman vote. White men have largely abandoned the Democrats and the left believes it’s because of racism that they want to punish minorities, keep them down. So that’s what’s really going on when you hear about the Electoral College and how unfair it allegedly is. Summing up, the left wants power taken away from the white establishment. They want a profound change in the way America is run. Taking voting power away from the white precincts is the quickest way to do that.
I’ll begin my response where O’Reilly began. It’s true that California provided the entirety of Hillary Clinton’s margin of popular vote victory (and then some), and it’s true that one positive feature of the Electoral College system is that it forces the candidates to campaign in battleground states where they have an opportunity to see a variety of microcultures and discrete political concerns. Something would be lost if we had one nationwide popular vote, and it would put more emphasis on campaigning in the biggest population centers. On the other hand, the majority of our states get very little attention in our current system because it’s a foregone conclusion how they will vote. A Republican isn’t going to spend much time campaigning around Boston and a Democrat will probably ignore New Orleans.
Another advantage to the Electoral College (and, I think, its best feature) was identified by George Will in his column last week:
Those who demand direct popular election of the president should be advised that this is what we have — in 51 jurisdictions (the states and the District). And the electoral vote system quarantines electoral disputes. Imagine the 1960 election under direct popular election: John F. Kennedy’s popular vote margin over Richard M. Nixon was just 118,574. If all 68,838,219 popular votes had been poured into a single national bucket, there would have been powerful incentives to challenge the results in many of the nation’s 170,000 precincts.
Honestly, though, the left isn’t objecting to the Electoral College because they’re opposed to retail politics or indifferent to the advantages of quarantining vote-counting disputes. They’re upset because the system disadvantages them.
So, the real debate should be over whether there are reasons why the left should have to compete with fifty pound weights strapped to their legs.
O’Reilly says that the left’s belief is that by “neutralizing the largely white rural areas in the Midwest and South” they can get power. I guess that’s true in a certain sense, but the word “neutralizing” is instructive in this case. If by neutral, we mean that white rural votes should have the same weight as all other votes, then all we’re doing is evening the playing field. Of course, “neutralizing” can also mean to “kill” or just to remove a threat. O’Reilly uses racially charged incendiary language on purpose, but the only thing the left wants to kill is the unfair advantage that makes the opinion of a white rancher in Wyoming several times more influential than the opinion of a Latino city worker in Los Angeles[.]
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Now, when O’Reilly says that the left believes “that white men have set up a system of oppression” and that “that system must be destroyed,” he’s tribalizing the debate over the merits of the Electoral College and telling his white audience that racial minorities in the cities want to annihilate them in retaliation for their oppression. On the one hand, we do have a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, and our legal system still demonstrates vast disparities in treatment and outcomes based on race. But the only oppression we need to concern ourselves with here is the oppression that comes with fighting to win election where your opponent can win even when they get nearly three million fewer votes. The left would simply like to win elections in which they get the most votes. It’s not any more complicated than that.
O’Reilly sneers when he says “So-called white privilege bad; diversity good,” but the only privilege that’s directly relevant to the Electoral College is the privilege of having your vote count for more than the votes of your opponents.
I want to look at O’Reilly’s conclusion one more time before I conclude.
White men have largely abandoned the Democrats and the left believes it’s because of racism that they want to punish minorities, keep them down. So that’s what’s really going on when you hear about the Electoral College and how unfair it allegedly is. Summing up, the left wants power taken away from the white establishment. They want a profound change in the way America is run. Taking voting power away from the white precincts is the quickest way to do that.
O’Reilly starts by strongly suggesting that the left (in his view, synonymous with minorities) is wrong to believe that the system is designed by the white establishment to keep them down, but then immediately complains that the left wants to take an unfair advantage away from white precincts.
I know you are not surprised that Bill O’Reilly and Fox News are using their airwaves to tell white people that darkies are coming to get them and change how things are run and take away their privileges and exact revenge on them for the sins of oppression.
I know you are not surprised that, even as they do this, they accuse the left of being the ones who make “everything about race.”
What’s clear from O’Reilly’s rant, however, is that he sees the Electoral College as a bulwark of white privilege and justifiable oppression. And that’s precisely why he likes it and wants to protect it.
Over here on the left, though, there’s an actual debate about the pros and cons of the Electoral College, and it’s not all about race. It’s about whether or not we should elect our president the same way we elect our governors and senators and congresspeople and the leaders of our unincorporated hamlets.
Longman’s colleague at the Political Animal blog, Nancy LeTourneau, adds, An Update to the Republican Southern Strategy:
In addition to the excellent arguments Martin Longman just made about Bill O’Reilly’s defense of the electoral college last night, a lot of people are suggesting that it was simply an embrace of white supremacy.
In response, we see things like this:
Headlines like this one from Katherine Krueger are also prevalent: “Bill O’Reilly is now just openly defending white supremacy.”
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It is important to keep in mind that Fox News (and Bill O’Reilly particularly) are masters of propaganda. So it’s interesting to think about the message they intended to send to their mostly white, elderly conservative audience. It is very reminiscent of how Kevin Phillips described the Republican Southern Strategy back in 1970.
From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that…The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.
In other words, O’Reilly was making a play for what Phillips called “the Negrophobe whites.” He did so by updating it to address the current arguments against the electoral college. O’Reilly believes that his audience will respond to a suggestion that “Democrats are heavily reliant on the minority vote. Also the woman vote,” by rejecting their arguments against the electoral college. He assumes that is a winning play for conservatives…just as Phillips did back in 1970.
Phillip Bump at the Washington Post adds, Bill O’Reilly rose to the defense of white privilege in America’s presidential voting process (excerpt):
In Tuesday’s broadcast, O’Reilly was specifically arguing that places in which fewer people live should have disproportionate political power so that presidential candidates are forced to campaign in those places in order to win. In other words, he’s suggesting that the power of the popular vote should be muted to give more power to the minority of Americans who live outside of cities.
Eighty percent of the country lives in an urban area and those who live in rural areas are disproportionately white. O’Reilly is suggesting that those rural voters deserve a special privilege — more weighted electoral votes — and he’s reinforcing that argument by pointing out that it will benefit whites. Privilege for whites. White privilege.
There is a “white establishment,” of course. Congress is overwhelmingly white — more heavily white than the population as a whole. The Senate is even whiter than the House; nearly as many Kennedys have been elected to the Senate as have black people. Not coincidentally, the Senate also gives disproportionate power to less-populated and often whiter states. (You’ve heard it before: Wyoming and California get the same number of senators.)
Moreover, there’s a direct overlap between race and partisanship, as we noted in July. The Republican Party is a mostly white party; the Democratic Party is more diverse. (The overwhelming majority of the nonwhite members of the House are Democrats.) O’Reilly notes that white men have gravitated to the GOP, which is accurate and which makes the racial split more stark.
Race and party are tightly intertwined. The priorities of the parties reflect their membership, and therefore talking about partisan opposition often overlaps with talking about racial tension. That also means that defenses of the power of Republican voters overlap with defenses of the power of white voters.
Another way to frame O’Reilly’s central premise is this: In the face of a diversifying American population, should protections be maintained that continue to support the political dominance of white people? A lot of white people, including O’Reilly, would say yes. A lot of nonwhite people would presumably say no.
On Jan. 20, the power structure of the federal government will be dominated by the Republican Party. The new establishment will be more white, will be acting on behalf of a heavily white party and will be less inclined to answer the preceding question in the negative.
Americans cannot seem to escape our “original sin” of slavery — followed by another 100 years of state-sanctioned segregation. The last remaining vestige of slavery in the Constitution is the Electoral College. The time has come to end this antiquated constitutional provision.